Red Hat is shying away from taking "control" of its relationship with customers and instead hopes to become a thought leader that champions innovation through freedom of the community.
Matthew Szulik, Red Hat chief executive, chairman and president, said Wednesday it was wrong to think companies like Red Hat could control what the open source community builds and that it's important to stay true to the premise of the Gnu General Public License (GPL).
Companies that don't remain true to the GPL or who don't endorse patent-free software violate the concept of open source and are hurting innovation, Szulik said.
Szulik stated his position during a question and answer session at the chief information officers' (CIOs') conference Vortex05 in San Francisco.
Sixty per cent of Red Hat Linux is distributed through partners like Dell, Hewlett Packard and IBM, eliminating Red Hat from direct contact with a large number of users.
Instead, Red Hat prefers to maintain relations through its customer advisory board while encouraging contributions to Red Hat Linux from developers through activities like the company's Fedora project. Szulik believes this approach has helped build critical mass for Red Hat and innovations such as different language versions of the OS.
"It's very difficult to shape the development agenda of the community... every day people comment to us on the quality of our products through Kerrnel.org. What's important is staying true to the premise of the GPL model," Szulik said.
Companies who violate open source, such as those who claim to provide open source but who add "proprietary" layers to the technology, lack legitimacy. He also raised a red flag over the threat posed to innovation by companies that file hundreds of software patents.
Szulik said: "It starts with the APIs now, then it moves into content. Try to put [Microsoft's] Windows Media Player into Firefox and see what it looks like. In a world where application-to-application interaction becomes the norm, where does that innovation come from and who owns it?"
For all his enthusiasm about the community and sever-side Linux, Szulik provided something of a reality check on the much debated theme of a Linux desktop. According to Szulik, the huge presence of legacy infrastructure like Microsoft's Exchange and PowerPoint has prevented a lot of people making the move.
"The desktop has become a lot like teenage sex: a lot of people are talking about it but not many people are doing it," Szulik said.
He noted things are changing with the growth of open source email and messaging, and the emergence of virtualization software that can move the processing logic off of the client and onto the server. "We are starting to see great strides in Europe and Asia," he said.®